by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Starting next week, gay couples in California will be allowed to marry. No doubt, this will be a media spectacle covered on every channel.

The story is even more sensational because voters in that state might pass an amendment to ban such unions in November, closing the window for gay marriages within six months of its opening. If the news of gay people in some far-off state getting married scares you, don’t worry. Your governor is on the job. He frowns on such activity and knows that the people of Missouri do, too.

Gay marriage has been made illegal in the state several times, the most recent effort being a 2004 amendment to the Missouri constitution that said: “A marriage between persons of the same sex will not be recognized for any purpose in this state even when valid where contracted.”

But our governor knows that just banning gay marriages from taking place in Missouri and refusing to recognize any such marriages from other states is not enough. Nor is the fact that the federal government refuses to recognize any marriage license issued by a state unless it is specifically between a man and a woman, preventing gay couples from filing joint tax returns or getting other federal benefits of marriage.

“The latest news from California is yet another clear indication of the need to protect traditional marriage within the United States Constitution,” Gov. Matt Blunt said last week. Yes, the governor – and several of those vying to replace him come November – wants to change the U.S. Constitution to take away the rights of a state to define and regulate marriage contracts and ban forever from our shores the threat of a gay married couple. Because as long as one gay married couple exists in our country, it is a grave and serious threat to every heterosexual who is already married or wants to become married.

How? Well, frankly that’s where this all breaks down. After being married for nearly 14 years, I can’t really see how allowing a committed couple of the same sex to enter into a marriage bond will affect me at all. It doesn’t make me want to leave my wife and suddenly become gay. Nor does it seem to have a similar effect on her. It doesn’t decrease my wages or cause me financial distress – one of the main causes of marital problems. As far as I can tell, my days will continue on as is regardless of whether a couple of Joes or Janes get married in California or even Missouri.

Perhaps Blunt thinks that gay couples would just be bad at marriage, tarnishing the institution through constant bickering like the characters from Will and Grace. Now, I know quite a number of people who are married but whose treatment of their spouses makes a mockery of the institution of marriage. Yet, in these cases the state doesn’t interfere in the marital contract, no matter how ill-considered or how hastily entered into.

It is odd to watch those who claim to be conservative trying to use the forces of the federal government to interfere in the contract of marriage between two individuals – probably the most intimate of contracts, and one that historically has been left up to the states and those getting married to define. Even more hypocritical is the fact that these so-called conservatives use the argument of states’ rights when fighting federal legislation to clean up our air or water, but when a state some 2,000 miles away grants the right to marry to gay couples, they see immediate need for federal intervention.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since these are the same type of conservatives who passed federal legislation to interfere in the marriage contract between Terri and Michael Schiavo, taking away the rights of an individual to make medical decisions for his incapacitated spouse and giving those rights to the government. The fact is that the issue of gay marriage in Missouri has been settled, and its ban is now part of our constitution. It will not be revisited any time soon, and for all practical purposes it is a dead issue.

So I think we need to be careful when Missouri politicians and candidates start getting excited about gay marriages in California. It might be that they are simply trying to “wag the dog” – to distract us with the “threat” of gay marriage while they work with their corporate backers to pass legislation to give away public resources to private interests.